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Howman talks tough on organised crime and doping

Director General of the WADA, David Howman

Director General of the WADA, David Howman (Image credit: AFP)

On the eve of the PCC (Partnership for Clean Competition) conference in New York, WADA director general David Howman has given his frankest interview yet on the state of doping within sport, pinpointing the dangers brought in by organised crime, corruption and a lack of drive from within governing bodies.

And with the Alberto Contador case set for a conclusion in the coming weeks, Howman has outlined why he and the UCI pursued an appeal, but admitted that the judicial system needed reform in order to provide quicker resolutions.

Howman will be the key note speaker in New York on Thursday in front of an audience including Travis Tygart (USADA) and Jeff Novitzky (FDA), and talked passionately about WADA's role in fighting for the integrity of the sport as it faces up to more than just the threats of athletes doping, as organised crime rings, and corruption have become hot topics.

"We, WADA, were set up because every sport and every government had a different rule. I think things have improved considerably because now there is one set of rules covering everything, and I think that the gaps to the cheaters has narrowed quite considerably," he told Cyclingnews.

"On the other hand, the cheaters that are really clever are now cleverer, or they're getting more help, and that's a challenge."

That 'help', Howman made clear, is coming from mafia-style criminal rings who have moved from selling hard drugs such as heroin, into the markets of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, where higher mark-ups and minimal police intervention means that the financial rewards can be far greater.

How long such activity has been going on is unclear but Howman estimates that there have been at least five years in which the problem has escalated. In the last 12 months WADA has launched into collaboration with Interpol, sharing information – a bold move considering that the anti-doping agency's budget was frozen for 2012 and that their further investigations and hard work has lead to greater knowledge of sport's murky underworld.

"The more you find the more you have to carry on. I mean, what are you going to do, just stop? What you've got to do is reflect on why you're doing your job and that's to protect the integrity of sport. You have to believe that people want to see sport played in the purest possible way and that they don't want to see cheats bloody winning," he said.

Last month Howman bluntly told a conference in Paris that only the 'dopey dopers' were being caught, pointing out that the number of suppliers and doctors who have been caught remains low.

"I think you've got to address the major issue, and sport has to look at this. Is organised crime moving into sport or not? Sport would like to say surely it's not but we now know that through match fixing and everything that goes on with betting that that's what goes on in the underworld. We know that the mafia-organised crime is making more money from pushing steroids than it is through pushing heroin."

Contador's Case and national federations

Yet despite Howman's determination to fight a problem that is almost impossible to quantify at this stage, he is aware that key battles still need to be won in the short term. One case that WADA and the UCI collaborated on surrounds Alberto Contador. The three-time-Tour de France winner tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour but was exonerated by the Spanish federation earlier this year. That led to a appeal which was heard by CAS last week in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"I'll feel more comfortable talking about that when it comes to a conclusion but what I'll say is that no case should take this long," Howman admitted.

"But when you've got cases where you've got lawyers who want to make sure that every piece of evidence is put through a court and you've got a court that allows that, then instead of having a case where it's 30 pages long you've got one that's 3,030 pages long."

The case has dragged on with delays and extensions on both sides, but Howman stressed that future cases need to be streamlined so that a proper conclusion can be reached in a suitable time frame.

"The appeal was based on the fact that the federation got it wrong in exonerating him, simple as that. He had the banned substance in his system, with no excuse and that was why we appealed. I'm hopeful that CAS will make the correct decision."

And while WADA's budget has been frozen, the agency will be pushing for greater collaboration and consistency with national federations, with a Howman leading a programme he has titled 'better practice'.

"We want to work with the national federations and help them to do their jobs better, rather that just sit back until critical moments and I think that's an exercise that will take a couple of years and will be centred around anti-doping at the coal face. That's the only way we can do anything about it."

"Everyone says that 'we don't have a problem and therefore we don't have to check as hard'. Who is going to say you've got a problem if you're not even checking for it. They need to line up and be asked if they're being truly responsible or just using excuses. That's not looking at cycling, which has a good and responsible programme. But many countries like to say they're clean and not worry about the situation."

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Daniel Benson
Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.